Anthony Diorio is not the kind of athlete who raises his voice to his coach.

But in the first half of Shawnee's battle with Timber Creek in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game, Diorio went to Renegades coach Tim Gushue and made a point.

Gushue could only laugh in relaying the story.

"He was out of the game for blood," Gushue said of a cut on Diorio's leg. "He comes up to me and says, 'I want the ball.' "

"I said, 'Anthony, you're not in the game right now. When you go back in the game, we'll get you the ball.' "

Diorio carried the football 26 times that cold and damp Saturday night at Rowan University, gaining 140 yards, scoring a touchdown on a reception, and leading Shawnee to a 31-22 victory over the two-time defending champions.

For that performance, as well as his leading role in reviving a Shawnee season that appeared lost in the middle of October, Diorio is The Inquirer's South Jersey offensive player of the year in football.

"It was awesome," Diorio said of his senior season. "There's no other word for it."

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Diorio gained 1,328 yards on 222 carries and scored 18 touchdowns as Shawnee went 9-3, won its final six games, and captured its fifth South Jersey title.

Diorio also made 73 tackles as a standout linebacker.

But the statistics only hint at Diorio's contribution. He brought a toughness and determination to every practice and every game that inspired his teammates.

And the Renegades needed that kind of leadership after losing two games in a row in mid-October and falling to 3-3.

"We had lost three games, but in two of them, we had the lead and we let it get away," Diorio said. "There was no way we could give up on the season. I knew we could make a run."

Gushue said that Diorio isn't a "rah-rah" leader but that he sets an example for his teammates. That became crucial at that juncture of the season.

"We pretty much decided that every game from then on would be a playoff game," Gushue said. "Anthony just took it to a whole 'nother level."

In Shawnee's final six games, all victories, Diorio ran for 777 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.

Diorio said he was determined to try to make sure his final team would be mentioned among the best in program history.

"Every day in practice, all we heard about was the 2002 team, the 2004 team, the 2008 and 2009 teams," Diorio said. "When we got an opportunity to be like one of those teams, we weren't going to let it get out of our hands."

A top student, Diorio plans to play football in college. He has drawn recruiting interest from Ivy League and Patriot League programs as well as the University of Dayton, the alma mater of father, Rob.

Diorio suffered an injury to his left hand in the Nov. 15 game at Hammonton, creating swelling that limited his ability to grip the football on offense or grab runners on defense for the next three weeks.

"I just held the ball in my right hand," Diorio said Monday night, his left hand still swollen and wrapped in protective tape.

In the title game against Timber Creek, Diorio set the tone for the Renegades with powerful runs that usually ended with his lowering his shoulder to crash into a Chargers defensive back.

He carried the ball on Shawnee's first four plays, gaining 45 yards. He caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Mike Welsh late in the second quarter.

And when the Renegades needed to run out the clock, Diorio gained 16 and 18 yards on consecutive carries to move the ball to the Timber Creek 2-yard line and set up the clinching score.

"He took his game to another level," Gushue said of Diorio in the championship game. "He was like the 'Terminator.' He had that look in his eyes."

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

jerseysidesports